Splatoon 3 - Splatacular
If you’ve played Splatoon before, you know what to expect with Splatoon 3. Feeling more like an extra waterslide above an already existing waterpark, what we have here is more weapons, more stages and the tweaking of modes based on player feedback. While the multiplayer portion is the main tentacle here, a single player portion is offered, which is little more than training and familiarisation for the true experience. There’s a whiff of Mario about the connected overworld, with six main islands to explore, each covered in pink fuzz that must be cleared with eggs you collect from clearing objectives in short, sharp levels. This simple currency can also be found hidden around the island, with buried stashes sniffed out by a fishy buddy who acts as a companion and thrown helper throughout these more open islands and their connected stages.
Nothing here moves beyond homage, though, as a sense of déjàvu sets in by the time you reach the fourth island (of six), with a repetitive over-structure that may cause many to halt around this point. After all, the only purpose of this mode is to familiarise and train you in the use of Splatoon 3’s diverse range of weapons and bombs, with each stage completely themed around weapon-specific scenarios. Some of them don’t even let you fire a splat, presenting puzzle situations related to your bombs or other traversal methods. With around ten stages per island, and each of these requiring an increasing number of eggs to reach and unlock, it can become a bit tiresome, particularly as the only rewards are decoration collectibles and the dubious pleasure of unlocking an unexciting single-player upgrade tree. I hit a difficulty wall two-thirds in that was more frustrating than challenging and it made me question if it was worth pushing through, particularly as I have no care about cosmetics.
Each island has a boss battle and while these are fine they are mostly a relief to get past. I guess the same could be said for all boss fights in general, yet in this case Splatoon 3’s single player traversal is as flaccid as its inhabitants, all land-lubbered and dry-locked, and the boss battles are focused on bullying over your hard-painted colour with broad strokes. It’s only when you splat some ink and dive into it with squid form that movement feels enjoyable. By providing an entire platforming side to the title, it fails to solve the fact that just making your way through its levels and overworld feels awkward and cumbersome. Granted, there is a bit of effort put into the solo portion’s fiction, but it never grabbed me at all. Why bother with secret balloons when the reward is some note page of a book I’ll never look at? Where is the incentive to care about diving deeply into weapon mechanics when the vanilla guns already get the job done? I wanted exciting levels of flowing paint that end in a crescendo of interlocking game mechanics, or enemies that feel more than training robots, but unfortunately what I hoped for as a joyous embracing if this otherwise original concept never comes to be.
The counterweight to this weaker side to Splatoon 3 lies in the online experience, which is the main attraction, and rightly so. The 4 vs 4 Turf War is still the staple mode that most will gravitate towards, and the three-minute matches are perfect for some quick action. While the differences in the weapons felt forced and unnecessary in the single player, I’ve found myself noticing which weapons are slaughtering me in Turf War and then going and unlocking those to play with for a bit to see if they suit me. As a result, I’m quite taken with the roller, as it can cover a large walking path with colour as well as deliver a high damage splat at close range. I also enjoy its concordant curling bomb, which I’ve found is great for setting free and then following in its wake in squid form to really punch into enemy turf.
My time is rarely spent on the offence, though, as I’ve found a niche for making sure our base is well painted and for maintaining rails and sponges to facilitate the smooth coordination of my team. I love that there’s a place for such an approach, with acting as defence just as important as trying to paint new territory. This is not to say that I am completely uninterested in being competitive. I’ve dabbled in the layers of choice related to raiment tweaks and their attached stat boosts, as these can truly turn the tide of battle. Even casually investing in some higher ink resistance saw me vanquishing more opponents, the extra second or so of life enough to spray them with bonus damage.
I was not interested at all in ranked (Anarchy) matches, so I eschewed those, but that mode does look quite deep, with the ability to form teams, enjoy longer battle times and the need to bet rank points to enter some matches. Anarchy battles also feature different modes, such as King of the Hill zones, tower control, carrying a rainmaker to score points, and a blitz mode where you must score goals with clams. If these become available in the more casual arena, I might partake, but I’m more than happy to leave ranked modes to those who are made of sterner stuff.
Salmon Run was more up my alley, and I found myself drawn to it whenever I had a little bit more time. This PvE, multi-round, wave-based mode quickly descends into utter chaos in all the right ways, with AI enemies that always seem to spawn in the worst place at the wrong time. It’s a lot of fun if you have a team that focuses on reviving you and making sure there are pathways of ink to travel along so that you can more easily deliver golden eggs to the receptacle. The fact that you are given a random weapon for each of the three waves (fourth if a super boss appears) means that you are forced to learn the weapon spread. It also soon becomes apparent that you can’t always carry an egg yourself all the way to the basket, and so being able to throw eggs is a welcome skill that can see you passing them along to teammates with lobs. The caveat to this is that it costs ink to throw a golden egg and you might not have enough to do that and also shoot paint, so you must make split decisions on what to prioritise. In contrast to prior games, Splatoon 3 also marks Salmon Run being open all the time, which is a welcome change that gives you more play options.
When it comes to performance, I can speak about two aspects. Firstly, in lobbies, shops and during matches the game runs like a dream and looks gorgeous on the OLED screen. It also looks great on a big screen, with matches on either mode running at a smooth 60fps. The hub area suffers from a noticeable drop in framerate, perhaps (this is just a guess) because of the background checks going on for online players and their customised artworks that display when you walk near them.
The second performance aspect has to do with disconnects, which are a real problem in this opening week. I’ve had a lot of matches either not happen or dropping partway through, with some – more frustratingly – disconnecting right at the end of the round, resulting in no XP being recorded. While this is soon forgotten, and the short rounds mean you don’t lose too much, the fact that every few matches results in a communication error needs to be addressed. I’ve also had periods when online just isn’t available at all. There’s also the matter of how early leavers are handled. If one of the eight players drops out or leaves, the match ends instantly, which is a real wet biscuit. I guess this stops sore losers from quitting, but it punishes the remaining players, so I hope a solution to this is forthcoming.
Outside of actual matches, you have practice options where you can test out any weapon before you buy them. You can activate copy bots in the large testing rooms to ascertain weapon damage and tactics to use against each type of attack. There’s recon mode, where you can explore the Turf War maps at your leisure and get a feel for them. You can also choose to go offline and set up local matches – but who has that many friends, right? Another almost hidden element is a Tetris-like card battler that is only playable against AI right now. It seems okay, though I’m not sure if I’ll go back to it very often. Throw on top of this the clothing customisation and special orders you can activate via the Nintendo Online mobile app (which is also handy for checking on map rotations), and you have a title that can absolutely consume your time if you get hooked.